SarcmarkThe world was introduced to the SarcMark yesterday, a new piece of punctuation designed to help us convey sarcasm in writing.

The @-like swirl with a period in the middle is intended to be used in place of standard end-of-sentence punctuation, because, as the SarcMark site states: "With the spoken word, we use our tone, inflection and volume to question, exclaim and convey our feelings. The written word has question marks and exclamation points to document those thoughts, but sarcasm has nothing!"

At first I thought, Well, that's stupid.

Probably because I have yet to meet an emoticon I like. Simply put, I think if the person you're IMing, texting or emailing can't pick up your tone from contextual clues, you don't know this person well enough to be sarcastic with them in the first place. Or maybe they're just too dumb -- SarcMark or not.

But I found, after a phone call with Paul Sak, the older half of the Michigan-based father-son duo who created the SarcMark, my opinion had changed.

As Sak explained, there's an inherent problem in the fact that written words lacks hand gestures, inflections -- all the fun flourishes that lend verbal communication its nuance.

"In the written word, it's more black and white," says Sak. "A sentence with a period at the end means one thing, but replace it with an exclamation and it takes on a whole new meaning."

And, sure, you could italicize your sarcastic remarks or add a parenthical LOL or j/k, but those, says Sak, make for a convoluted, ugly sentence. And I agree -- the ugly asethetics of emoticons (especially when they start blinking and swirling) fuel my disdain. But what he did convince me of was this: No matter how good a friend someone is, sarcasm just doesn't translate well in type. And somehow I find Sak's little Sarc not nearly as offensive as an emoticon.

It's almost insulting -- using one suggests that you don't know me well enough not to have to translate your every emotion and joke. And then you have the issue of how to punctuate the end of your sentence: ":)." is awfully cumbersome. Plus, let's face it, throwing one at the end of an otherwise passive-aggressive email doesn't soften the blow: It's the coup de grace that convinces me beyond a doubt that you're being a B.

But, since so much of communication today is via the typed word, I need something. And there's a lot to like about the SarcMark.
sarcmark

For example, I like that Sak and his son took pains not to stray too far from our existing punctuation: ! ... , . ; ? :

A closer look reveals -- with the exception of the dash -- all the marks have one thing in common: "It was important to us to create a mark that includes a period," says Sak. "It comes at the end of the sentence and fits nicely."

It was actually Sak's son Doug, now in his mid-30s, who first conceived of the idea eight years ago. Initially, his father was confounded. "Why would you need that?" Eventually, he came around, and the two founded Sarcasm Inc.

First came the design of the SarcMark, then came the software (available at www.sarcmark.com for $1.99), which allows almost any Windows user (they're still hard at work on the 32-bit Windows 7 version) to insert one into her writing simply by pressing CTRL + .

"It's as easy as capitalizing a letter!" enthuses Sak.

The software is also available for Blackberries; Mac and iPhone users may soon have a SarcMark in their futures, too.

I also like the fact that the new-on-the-scene Sark could have another interesting application: Closed-captioned TV, where it would convey a sarcastic tone of voice in newscasts, sports games and other captioned programming.

While I first thought that the SarcMark was just another clever-but-pointless "Web 2.0" scheme -- similar to the tumblrs-turned-book-deals or Twitter-turned-TV-shows (or both, even) -- I'm actually digging it. The fact that it's not spelled "Sarcmarc" helps, too.

Whether it will find a lasting place in modern language can only be left to time, but I have faith that if Lolspeak, emoticons and abbreviations of already short words can endure, the SarcMark can, too. Then again, I've always been an optimistsarcmark

(On a side note, check out the SarcMark commercial)




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